The Disposition of Information LO29490

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 11/12/02

Replying to LO29464 --

Dear Organlearners,

Leo Minnigh <> writes:

>Now, that library is more a cable ware house than a
>book and journal ware house; even the personel seems
>to loose contact with information on paper. Their grins
>became smily's, their words bits and bytes. During
>meetings the people communicated with beamers and
>Power Point. I left that strange environment in the
>beginning of this year.

Greetings dear Leo,

Thank you for this description. I am a user of a library and not a
librarian as you. Therefore I have not seen the picture as clearly as you
that the human as mouthpiece ("umlomo") between the user and information
had become replaced by an electronic interface.

A few days ago Chris Klopper came to visit me on a contencious issue
involving chemistry, health and ethics. I explained to him the structure
of each molecule involved and its subsequent reaction possibilities by the
mimicry of my hands as i was talking. It is cheap, fast and hopefully
effective, although it requires imagination by the hearer. Hand mimicry,
the "power point" of the body. How do you say Chris?

>At has stipulated that information is something else than
>knowledge. He also put our attention to information from
>nature, information from humans. I like to add some of my
>thoughts to this dialogue.

Thank you Leo for your input.

>In my mind it all starts with a sign. A sign which possibly
>is recognised as a signal. And a signal that probably
>becomes information.

I have used sign and signal in the opposite sense! So i had a look at the
dictionaries what they had to say on these two words. Sign comes from the
Latin word "signum" which means "token". Signal comes from the Latin word
"signalis" which means "belonging to the token". In chemistry and physics
the word signal rather than sign is used to refer to anything emitted by
any object. That is why i used it to refer what reaches my sense organs
when in nature. But i have clearly been ignorant to the use of signal in
human culture. There it seems that a sign is made up of signals, a datum
is made up of signs and information is made up of data. So i am in
desperate need for those things emitted by nature so that they each and
interact with my sense organs.

>This chain of reactions (sign - signal - information -
>questions/thoughts) is so smooth that one easily think that
>signs are the final link of the chain, knowledge. But if we
>consider each of these links, we immediately realise how
>rediculous this conclusion is.

The dictionaries list some twenty different usages for sign and some ten
for signal. But usuages are not according to their etymology. In fact,
there is no consistency in how they are used. So i cannot expect from you
to use them otherwise. Nevertheless, i understand what you mean. Think of
atoms-molecules-cells-organs-organism. The organism is not its atoms,
although this is what the cartesian outlook on life entails.

>Nature is one huge cinema of signs. For At and many
>others these signs are signals and information. But also
>for nature itself. I just finished a short walk with the dog
>and I was looking for signs (and thus in this case signals).
>It is autumn in Holland and thus there are a lot of coulored
>leaves on the ground and still in the trees. What is the
>meaning of this signal?

Dear Leo, you have not understood me clearly. Many years ago i
distinguished between "natural information" and "cultural information".
"Cultural information" is created by humans with the knowledge to do so.
But as i became more aware of the profound difference between knowledge
which dwels within the mind and information which exists outside it, i
began questioning myself whether i should talk at all of "natural
information". I am now very sure that cultural information requires human
knowledge to create it. When i argue in analogy it will mean that natural
information requires non-human knowledge which created it. Now what would
this non-human knowledge in nature be? I am tempted as a Christian to
claim that it is the knowledge of God. But this would be an easy way out
of a very difficult question. I think you have followed the difficulty
with your train of thoughts:

>I was wondering what the signals were for nature to change
>itself to autumn. What was the signal for the chlorophyl in
>the leaves to retreat into the trunk, waiting for another signal
>in the spring.
>Does the chlorophyl has knowledge??

It makes me think. I can have knowledge of the chlorophyl molecule. (It is
a porphyrin kind of molecule with a magnesium ion in its centre). But can
a chlorophyl molecule have knowledge of me? Perhaps i am too complex. But
what then about a simpler molecule like water. Chlorophyl is the key
substance in spliting water molecule H2O into hydrogen and oxygen so that
together with carbon dioxide CO2 complex carbohydrates can be created from
it. It knows not to use anything else which has a OH bond. Thus it seems
as if chlorophyl has knowledge of water. But is it not a case of
anthropomorphising chlorophyl?

>As soon as something is written, we may forget this
>information, because we could regenerate this information
>at any moment that we read it. Diaries were not necessary
>if our memory is endless. Written information is in some way
>an external store of our memory. This is maybe another
>reason why some people think that information is knowledge.

Thank you for having given me a better reason than those which i have
mentioned self.

When i have to recall from my memory the chemical name of a compound or
the botanical name of a plant, i first imagine for a fleeting part of
second the structure of the compound or a picture of the plant. You will
agree with me that the structure or picture are far more complex than the
names. Is my imagination part of my memory. I think not. But if it is,
then my memory must be very large to remember so many complex structures
and pictures. This, i think, is not the case. I have hated rote learning
since childhood because my memory did not have the capacity to memorise
all the information dished out to me.

So what does my imagination make use of which is stored in my memory. I
cannot tell, but you can take it from me that I have contemplated it since
an incident which i have observed some ten years ago. A lady cashier
making use of a computerised inventory system had to make out cash
receipts by hand because the computer system was "off" that day. As the
line in front of me became shorter i noticed something curious. Sometimes
she looked up the price of an item in a printed manual and on the other
occasions she would swivel her chair, type some keys on the dead keyboard
and then write the price down from memory. I noticed that the second
typing action was much faster than the first paging action. Only very
seldom could she write a price down directly from memory.

When it was my turn, even with a long que behind me, i asked her why she
was doing this typing? She said to me that she remembers the "typing path
on the keyboard" and as soon as she begins to execute it, often not even
completing it, she remembers the price of the item!

This i can say for imagining the structures, pictures and other visual
entities like diagrams that they appear as something "coming more into
focus". But it happens so fast that i cannot analyse how it happens. In
other words, like that lady was doing with her swift physical typing, my
mind is also doing some swift mental painting. If this is then
"remembering" information, are we not stretching the meaning of
information too far?

Thank you Leo for some pretty piercing thoughts. We have missed them.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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